Two blog posts I’ve read in the last day struck me like the ghost of christmas yet to come, and arose in me an urge to quit blogging, quit reading blogs, and quit reading the daily news. The first is an admonition from Robin Hanson against consumption of novel information:
Until you reach the state of the art, and are ready to be at the very forefront of advancing human knowledge, most of what you should read to get to that forefront isn’t today’s news, or even today’s blogger musings. Read classic books and articles, textbooks, review articles. Then maybe read focused publications (including perhaps some blog posts) on your chosen focus topic(s).
The second I came across while searching for an old post at Greg Mankiw’s blog. It is his advice for new junior faculty, which I am not, but it never the less resonated with me:
Avoid activities that will distract you from research. Whatever you do, do not start a blog. That will only establish your lack of seriousness as a scholar.
Perhaps I am on the verge of being persuaded by these appeals because, unlike Katja Grace, I am not entirely comfortable with my level of thinking vs reading. Katja writes:
The extreme of thinking with no intellectual input gets you as far as a thoughtful caveman. The other extreme is zero improvement on what exists around you. I’m not sure what the optimal compromise is, and it would depend on the topic, but I suspect I am biased in favor of thinking….[M]ore people seem toward the reading end of your spectrum and like a lot of detailed knowledge, keeping up with everything that happens without trying to add much to it… I mostly feel like I don’t read enough personally because reading seems so slow compared to thinking, but I suppose if I really cared I would have learned to speed read by now.
The thinking that blogging involves thinking is usually relatively short term focused, and doesn’t require you to stay with an idea or topic as long as reading a great book does, nor does it usually draw you as deeply in. Blogging also allows you to think about whatever piques your interest in the moment, and think about whatever your brain feels like thinking about. I don’t think this is a good way to learn about the world, because this draws you to ideas and topics that have an immediate novelty or are obviously interesting. In contrast, when you’re reading you’ve made a several hundred page commitment to focusing on a topic, and can’t just switch topics when things get a little dry or lose their novelty.
Blogging is like a conversation, you’re covering a lot of ground, thinking, and learning, which seems good. But topics change quickly and the focus tends to be on being things that are obviously interesting and can be communicated relatively quickly and easily. Some of the most important and ultimately interesting ideas come slowly and take a lot of heavy lifting and hard work. I am worried this conversation is too distracting for my own good, and is crowding out the heavy lifting.
I blame Yglesias and Cowen.